The Full Story on Elysia J. Mancini Duerr’s campaign to reform
the Magisterial District Court in Wards 3,4,5,6, and 8
As noted in the April 15 newsletter, Elysia Duerr is running for Magisterial District Judge (MDJ) for two big reasons:
- To bring to Haverford’s magisterial district court the sort of 21st century options that judges in other jurisdictions now use when dealing with neighbors who broke the law.
- To ensure that the $93,338 annual salary paid by the taxpayers is going to a judge who is working enough days a year to fully serve law enforcement, defendants, and crime victims.
Below we unpack both of those reasons:
Duerr chose not to cross-file in this race because she could see that “this is not the moment in history” to appear on a Republican ballot. She concluded that it would be “disingenuous” to appear on the Republican ballot when she shares Democrats’ commitment to criminal justice reform into the local court. Reform includes:
- alternative sentencing where appropriate
- restorative justice when victims and those found guilty can achieve some reconciliation
Duerr’s support for Democratic principles (and decision not to cross-file) does not signal she will rule on behalf of Democrats and against Republicans. Party affiliation is not relevant in court cases. It means she has seen, as a lawyer, that modern judicial reforms bring better results for everyone involved.
Duerr’s principled decision is risky for her and for the Democratic Party that has endorsed her.
- Her Republican opponent, the incumbent, IS cross-filed. So the Republican Party’s MDJ candidate will appear on the Democratic primary ballot. Legally, the incumbent was not required to collect any petition signatures to appear on either ballot; she enjoys auto-cross-filing.
- Should the 18-year Republican incumbent win the Democratic primary, only that incumbent’s name will be on the November ballot.
- Duerr, the Democrat, will not be on the November ballot unless she wins the May Democratic primary. That’s how cross-filing works.
In December, 2020, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a year-long investigation showing “Some local PA judges enjoy light workloads as taxpayers pay millions for salaries, pensions, health care.”
- The current MDJ in the Haverford district serving Wards 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 appears to schedule her courtroom so that she has the lowest MDJ workload in Delaware County, according to an Inquirer chart showing “expected work load” per county and actual workload. Another Haverford district judge shares her spot at the far end of the workload chart.
- The Inquirer explained that judges who hold court just a few days per month engage in “case stacking.” This means that a lot of cases are scheduled on one day, forcing parties to wait hours for their case to be called. Case stacking makes it difficult for police officers to wait around to testify in a case. So when the case is finally called, the arresting officer is not present, and the case has to be re-scheduled. Case stacking is convenient for MDJ’s but not for those the court is supposed to serve.
The Inquirer investigation also found that five of the 10 judges with the fewest scheduled court dates were based in Delaware County, which has 29 district judges.
- The number of cases before each court are not public, so there is no way to know if infrequent court days mean we simply have fewer cases here. But Haverford Township is the second largest township in Delco. It seems unlikely we have the fewest cases in the county. None of Haverford’s MDJ’s agreed to comment for the article.
Duerr sees inequities in MDJ workload as a matter she can help to improve
- Duerr intends to make the MDJ position, paid $93,338 a year, her full-time job, not a part-time job, as is currently the situation.
- There are MDJ’s in neighboring courtrooms who work overtime to serve their crowded dockets and receive the same salary as those working part-time.
- If Duerr finds there are too few cases for full-time work solely in Haverford Township, she will volunteer to assist neighboring magisterial district courts where MDJ’s are overworked.
- For Duerr these inequities in judicial workload point to the need for a statewide re-design of PA’s $237 million per year MDJ system. As an MDJ, she will support smart reforms.
Because Duerr does, currently, work a full-time job as staff attorney for Disability Rights Pennsylvania, she is limited to canvassing after work and on the weekends. Still, she is endeavoring to deliver her message and literature to every Dem door in Wards 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8
- Want to help Duerr get out the word on her candidacy before the primary, which is just a month away?
- Visit the Get Involved page on her campaign website.
- Visit the Donate page on her website to help her produce literature and yard signs.